Tube of Colgate, Witch, Hawaiian Girl … Halloween in North Camden

Dear Readers,

What could have been more fun than Halloween in North Camden in the fifties?  Believe me, not much.

John S. Read Elementary School, my long gone school at Fifth and York, held classes on Halloween morning, but, at lunchtime, you went home and put on your costume and mask.  The forbidden happened.  Boys in costumes dared to go in the girls’ schoolyard that was divided from the boys’ schoolyard by an iron fence.  Oh, the horror!  The screams!  The giggles!

Students paraded around the school, barely able to see through the cloth or plastic masks, and the moms, the aunts, the grandmoms of Read School students, as well as the neighborhood ladies, stood on the porches or on the pavements in the autumn sunshine.  I see them still– clapping and waving at the witches,  the princesses, the football players, the ghosts, the vampires, the monsters, the brides, the hobos, the cowboys, the Raggedy Anns and the angels.

Confession:  I never wanted to be a bride, a princess or an angel, but I secretly envied the oohs and aahs that these little girls received in outfits made from old party dresses or Holy Communion dresses.

One year I dressed up as a tube of Colgate toothpaste made from a paper dry cleaners’s bag and a paper bag colored red for a cap.  Another year as a witch… Another year as a Hawaiian girl with a plastic lei.  My mom made us great costumes and I regret that I can’t remember the other costumes from elementary school.

Oh, to break the strict routine of school and to mill around the classroom with homemade cupcakes with orange sprinkles…  Now that was big fun after the parade.

When we got home, we’d walk from our brick row house on Grant Street to my Nana’s house on Fifth Street near the Ben Franklin Bridge.  My mom would stand to the side of the marble steps so we could pretend that we were ordinary trick-or-treaters and we could see if my Nana would recognize us.  Jake and Fighter, our grandparents’ dogs, went wild at the storm door.  They wanted to eat up those masked kids.  What joy.  They didn’t recognize us!  After Nana shooed them, she brought us in and gave us candy, maybe even a little money, too.

Then, we would go back to our neighborhood and would trick-or-treat until it was dark.  Sometimes we took brown paper grocery bags and when they were about to burst, we’d run home for new ones.  I don’t remember using Mom’s pillowcases as many kids did?  Neighbors and little local businesses joined in the fun, admiring costumes and distributing candy.

Mom put on the porch light and we gave out candy to the big kids who clomped up our wooden porch steps until nine or ten p.m.

What great memories!  How did you celebrate Halloween as a kid?  Or, maybe you did not?  Tell me!

Marguerite Ferra, Cramer Hill where Halloweens were fun and safe, too, for many happy years


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